Shifting the spotlight from french fries to fruit, McDonald's Corp. (search) launched a new worldwide initiative Tuesday promoting healthy living — the latest effort by the world's largest restaurant chain to combat criticism of its food and business.
The "It's what I eat and what I do ... I'm lovin' it" campaign includes television ads, new packaging, an updated Web site and a fresh series of Ronald McDonald videos teaching children how to eat well and stay active.
"We will use our size and strength to set an example," said Chief Executive Officer Jim Skinner, who declined to put a price tag on the campaign.
The TV spots, which will be rolled out over the next couple of months in different languages around the world, feature kid-friendly images such as snowboarding, jump-roping fruits and veggies and tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Hockey player Wayne Gretzky (search) and speed skater Bonnie Blair will also spread the word.
McDonald's has pushed to convey a healthier image amid mounting criticism — not to mention obesity lawsuits — claiming fast food is not nutritious and has contributed to America's weight problem. The Oak Brook, Ill.-based company was also the target of the 2004 documentary "Super Size Me," (search) which focused on the health decline of filmmaker Morgan Spurlock during an all-McDonald's diet.
The company introduced entree-sized salads in U.S. restaurants in spring 2003 and in Europe in 2004. McDonald's also ran a promotion for adult Happy Meals (search) featuring salad, bottled water and a pedometer, added a fresh fruit option to its kids' Happy Meals and began heavily promoting milk.
This year, McDonald's plans to introduce new salads to their menus. Also, with trans-fatty acids regarded as the latest obesity culprit, McDonald's will keep working to remove transfats from foods, including french fries.
Last month, McDonald's Corp. settled an $8.5 million lawsuit accusing the company of failing to inform consumers of delays in a plan to reduce fat in the cooking oil used for its popular french fries and other foods.
Some critics doubt the new campaign will have much effect on public health, and instead see it as a public relations counter-attack.
"I think it's just window dressing designed to promote a more cuddly feeling towards the company than to really change their core business practices," said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest.
McDonald's shares fell 73 cents, or 2.1 percent, to close at $33.48 in Tuesday trading on the New York Stock Exchange — off a four-year high of $34.56 reached Monday — after their monthly sales report showed slightly slower growth.